Craig Brian Larson over at PreachingToday.com has a helpful article on the ethical use of other people’s sermons. If you come from the presumption that it is NEVER legitimate to borrow from the work of others, then this post is of no real use to you. (But I pity the congregation of the pastor who thinks that everything he has to say is the best and the greatest to be said on any subject).
Now, I recognize that Larson works for a company that is marketing sermons for sale. He has a vested interest in ministers being willing to borrow from the work of others. His company makes money when preachers buy their product: sermon manuscripts and tapes.
But I believe that there are legitimate times and ways to borrow from the work of others. I think Larson’s words are a helpful guide:
Can we preach borrowed sermons with integrity? Yes, if we follow several guidelines.
1. Borrow for a good reason.
A commendable reason for borrowing a sermon is the desire to feed the flock with quality sermons. If a pastor is responsible for delivering multiple messages every week, the study time required to produce several quality sermons may be hard to find. Borrowing sermons for one of those occasions each week may be a wise decision.
Some weeks have more emergencies than others. We may need to borrow in order to give the congregation a quality sermon.
Some preachers may feel their ability to take the truths of Scripture and shape them into compelling sermons is limited no matter how much time they invest in preparation. They borrow so they can give their flock the best available.
Some pastors borrow sermons because they lack discipline and diligence. That motive lacks integrity.
2. Meditate prayerfully over the Scripture text and sermon.
Borrowing a sermon does not relieve us of the responsibility to meditate over the Scripture text until we understand it and feel the heartbeat of God in the text. We must take the time to let the Spirit of God breathe the text anew into our spirits. And then we must meditate prayerfully over the sermon until we can own it. Only when we own the message can we preach it with integrity and passion because then it is our message.
3. Give credit.
Most people assume the pastor writes most of the sermon, albeit with the help of various study tools and assorted good ideas gleaned from others. For that reason, if we borrow most of the sermon, we should inform the church in some manner. Otherwise people will feel betrayed when they learn the truth. Before borrowing sermons, we should discuss doing so with church leadership to be sure they understand the reasons and support it.
There are several ways to acknowledge the source of a sermon.
A note in the bulletin can say:
Today Pastor Smith preaches a sermon by Richard Allen entitled "Five Reasons to Believe."
Today’s sermon by Pastor Smith relies heavily on a sermon by Richard Allen entitled "Five Reasons to Believe."
Key ideas in Pastor Smith’s sermon today are based on a sermon by Richard Allen entitled "Five Reasons to Believe."
The outline of Pastor Smith’s sermon today is based on a sermon by Richard Allen entitled "Five Reasons to Believe."
A pastor can say at the beginning of the sermon something similar to the examples above, or…
Recently I saw a sermon by Richard Allen entitled "Five Reasons to Believe" that spoke to my heart (or, that I believe is a word to our church), and I want to share it with you.
–Craig Brian Larson
You can find the original article here.